It’s late here in Arlington, Virginia – nearly 10pm on a rainy Tuesday. I’ve been thinking about Dale Beaumont-Brown’s new feature-length documentary ‘THIS.IS.PROGRESS”, and just about Progress in general. You see, Wrestlemania weekend is quickly approaching and I’m having a weird combination of nostalgia for last year’s event, and a decided lack of enthusiasm for this one. There are any number of elements that could be contributing to this – I’m not feeling much myself lately, some of my friends who I’d hoped to see at Mania won’t be able to make it, I haven’t watched very much wrestling in the last four months, etc. But then I think about the night before I flew to Orlando, how I was watching Progress’ “Chapter 36: We’re Going to Need a Bigger Room…Again” and how I screamed when Jimmy Havoc appeared during the main event. I think about what it was like speaking to Jim for the first time, and Jon. How I met a guy called Harry that everyone was referring to as “American Dale” who interviewed Courtney and I – for what, I wasn’t really sure.
And then I watched the documentary.
It is fascinating to me how Dale has captured Progress – all of Progress – in just over 90 minutes. It would be easy to trace a journey in a literal sense, or to contrast a big event to their meager beginnings. He could have traced the personal histories of all three owners, or followed a wrestler around for a while. But then, that wouldn’t be a documentary about Progress.
The thing is, everyone has a Progress story. Glen’s story starts in the audience at Chapter 1. Jimmy’s story began at Chapter 2. Ally’s at 19. Mine and Courtney’s at 41. Progress is a culmination of lots of stories: the linear stories of the wrestling characters, the histories of the performers themselves, the rise of a small “punk rock” company to this international sensation. Hundreds, even thousands, of fans whose lives have been changed or made better through their fandom tell their stories on blogs and podcasts and social media, and the word spreads until everyone has a Progress Story.
So kudos are due to Dale – because he told them all. He spun the angle on Progress to get every perspective you could imagine: promotion, story telling, women’s wrestling, inclusivity, mental health, physical health, family, endings, beginnings – it’s all there. And he doesn’t paint over the ugly parts. Those who have struggled or are struggling now are open about it. The moments when things are falling apart aren’t erased or watered down. Those people we wish to cut out from our history are kept in. Yes, Progress is welcoming and yes, it is a place to feel a part of something. But Jim, Jon, and Glen are not infallible. Progress is not perfect. Wrestling is not perfect. Sometimes the bad stuff gets in, and sometimes it looks fuzzy in the background of a shot, like something from a memory that’s gone all faded. The honesty in “THIS.IS.PROGRESS” is in not giving power to the moments in Progress’ history that have hurt or betrayed any of us who make up this family, but to quietly acknowledge them and move forward.
There are many moments in the film in which what we call “kayfabe” is broken, in a variety of ways. I’m rather partial to a scene in which Mark Haskins is preparing in a hallway before the Brixton show with his headphones on, but the camera has picked up the audio of Jack Gallagher who is a little ways down from him and working out the 8-man tag match that will happen just before the main event. The subtle ways in which Dale “exposes” Progress as the relatively small operation it truly is blew my mind. Watching Jon editing Chapter 46 on a laptop in a hotel room in Orlando, or Jim changing his son’s diaper. I remember how I felt meeting them in Orlando – Progress meant everything to me and words seemed to fail when the time came to express myself. I remember speaking to Jon about Super Strong Style 16 – which was the first event the PWGrrrlGang EVER purchased tickets for. “They’re just people,” someone once told me. And so they are – very real and wonderfully ordinary at times.
There is so much more nuance than I could ever list in a blog post in this documentary. The film’s relationship with light I could wax poetic about for hours, but I also didn’t study film in school and really have no idea what I’m talking about other than it makes you feel a certain way, through the whole thing. What I think my own major takeaway from it will be is that Progress is always going to be home, for so many of us in all aspects of wrestling. As someone who has been looking for a home for a long time, this means so much to me. You can never really be lost if you know where your home is.
I’ll see you in New Orleans.